In Talking Football, our writers Ian Roache, Eric Nicolson and Neil Robertson look at Dundee United’s get-out-of-jail win over Arbroath, wonder why Dundee keep losing goals from setpieces and consider St Johnstone’s heavy home defeat to Rangers.
Q: He was the difference between a dismal defeat and a valuable victory but Lawrence Shankland won’t always be able to rescue Dundee United, will he?
IR: No and they should not expect him to. He didn’t find the net at Ayr and they lost. He can also (touch wood, this won’t happen) get injured so they need others to step up if required. United also need to get better and more plentiful delivery to Shankland. He was starved of the ball for nearly all of that Arbroath match. When they did find him it was goal-goal.
EN: Shankland’s strike-rate in relation to the number of chances he gets is phenomenal. The drop-off in performance levels since the derby has been alarming from a few of his team-mates, though.
NR: He won’t but no-one at Tannadice will be complaining if he continues to hog the headlines. Twelve goals at this early stage of the season is a fantastic return in anyone’s book. However, teams will be working hard to find a way to stop the prolific hitman and it is vital United do not become too reliant on one man to win games.
Q: They sit top of the league with five wins out of six but should we be worried about United’s recent form?
IR: There are reasons to be concerned because they really struggled against Arbroath. They were too slow on the ball and made too many wrong decisions. Some players didn’t take their opportunity to impress the manager and may go back to the first-team fringes again. Even factoring in Shankland’s rescue mission, I would only give the Tangerines a five out of 10 for that display.
EN: On the face of it this was one of those “our name’s on the trophy” results. But I think it’s a bit early for that sort of talk, especially as it is tight at the top. There was clarity over Robbie Neilson’s starting 11 not that long ago but now the United boss must be wondering who he can rely on apart from the obvious main man. No manager can be happy with that.
NR: To perform poorly and still pick up three points is a vital knack so at the moment I can’t see Robbie Neilson being too concerned.
Q: Can you see why Neilson chose to go with only one out-and-out striker against the Lichties or are you as baffled as some fans appear to be?
IR: He would say it became a four when United had the ball but it didn’t really work. Louis Appere was on the left instead of alongside him, Peter Pawlett was in behind Shankland and Cammy Smith struggled on the right. Actually, things improved when full-back Adrian Sporle came on and played further upfield than usual.
EN: United (and Dundee) should always play with two up front in home league games for me.
NR: I wasn’t at the game but in other matches I have covered, Appere and Shankland looked a potent partnership and I wouldn’t be surprised to seeing it being restored on Saturday against Morton.
Q: Arbroath were rightly applauded for their excellent display at Tannadice. They don’t look like they will struggle in this division, do they?
IR: The Lichties were tremendous and it was cruel that they left with nothing other than pride in their performance. Dick Campbell has been telling everyone that he has a decent side and they look nothing like relegation candidates on current form.
EN: Nobody has outplayed them yet. They were robbed of a win against Partick and clearly deserved more on Saturday. Mid-table safety looks achievable (and likely).
NR: From the moment Arbroath clinched the League 1 title at Brechin last season the manager and his players have been adamant that they wouldn’t be in the Championship just to make up the numbers. Certainly, after the start they have made, their actions have more than backed up those words.
Q: After the loss to Morton, Dundee now have four teams between them and leaders United in the table. Discuss.
IR: By my reckoning those four are Ayr United (15 points), Inverness (13), Morton (nine) and Arbroath (eight). The Dens men also have eight but have a worse goal difference than the Lichties. That is quite a gap already to United, the Honest Men and ICT so the Dark Blues are already playing serious catch-up on three teams.
EN: If you haven’t won two games in a row you can’t expect to be much higher. If United had beaten Ayr I’d have said it would almost be game over as far as the title for Dundee. Ten points would be on the cusp of being too much to claw back.
NR: After relegation and wholesale changes to the playing squad over the summer, it was always going to take a while for James McPake to find his best team and formation this season. However, that excuse is now starting to wear thin and it is time this group of players started delivering.
Q: Another set-play, another lost goal. Why do the Dark Blues seem unable to stop conceding like that?
IR: It is the biggest worry of the season for manager James McPake. Every goal lost like that will feel like a punch in the stomach and he will be working flat out on the training pitch to try to sort it out.
EN: Cammy Kerr would have known who he was supposed to be marking but he failed to do so. It must be a manager’s greatest frustration when he sees that happen at such a crucial moment in the game.
NR: McPake, his assistant Jimmy Nicholl and coach Dave Mackay were all accomplished defenders during their playing days and they will be tearing their hair out in frustration at the loss of sloppy setpiece goals. They will be working the players hard on the training field but come match time, it is the responsibility of individuals to do their jobs properly and maintain concentration.
Q: Will everyone at Dens now be expecting too much of new signing Graham Dorrans?
IR: Fans will probably be looking for instant quality from Dorrans but it will take time for him to fit into the team. As has been said, Dundee don’t have too much time because they are already chasing others.
EN: McPake has plenty of creative options at his disposal now – Dorrans the pick of them. It’s time for the forwards and wingers to give the midfielders some better options when they are looking to pick out a pass.
NR: It is worth remembering that before Saturday, Dorrans last played almost a year ago on September 26 for Rangers against Ayr in the League Cup. It will naturally take time before he is fully match fit.
Q: St Johnstone fell to the bottom of the Premiership again so should we be worried?
IR: Losing even by four to Rangers isn’t one to get the alarm bells ringing but I probably expected more from them after a fine display up at Aberdeen the previous weekend.
EN: I’m not worried yet. I think Jason Holt’s presence is already key for Saints and his return should get them back to their Pittodrie form.
NR: It is still relatively early days and as Murray Davidson said after the Rangers game, no-one at McDiarmid is pushing the panic button just yet. However, the longer the wait for the first Premiership win continues, the more the pressure on the players will build.
Q: Saints now face an “easier” set of fixtures against Motherwell (h), Ross County (a), St Mirren (a), Hamilton (h) and Hearts (h). Where do you see them being after that lot?
IR: You can’t take any victory for granted but a realistic expectation would be three wins out of five.
EN: I expect a minimum of seven points.
NR: Looking more than one game ahead is a dangerous game to play and instead all focus has to be on breaking that duck against Motherwell on Saturday.
Q: Phew… Dunfermline won 3-0 at Firhill so is it onwards and upwards for the Pars?
IR: That is probably the best result the club has had in many a day. Losing to the Jags just did not bear thinking about. They are sitting just three points behind Dundee so catching them could be their target for the next week or two.
EN: You wouldn’t get rich trying to predict Dunfermline results, that’s for sure.
NR: Considering the behind-the-scenes turmoil at Firhill last week, Saturday was a great opportunity for the Pars to clinch all three points. However, they have to back it up again this weekend against Alloa – a team who won earlier this month at East End Park in the Challenge Cup.